Toru: Builders of an Innovative Nation | The Daily Star
12:15 AM, May 18, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:31 AM, May 18, 2018

Toru: Builders of an Innovative Nation

Bangladesh stands at a turning point in its history. Our nation will no longer hold any association with the term “least developed country” as we are graduating to become a developing nation by 2024. At the onset of this lies the convergence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and socio-economic development. In the coming days, all disciplines, businesses, industries, economies and the society, in general, will have to shift gears to adapt to the changes brought on by the 4IR. To tackle such challenges, the society needs to create an ecosystem where innovations can thrive and innovators can learn to become transformative leaders of the future. These leaders will not only work towards solving social problems through their innovation, but also influence policymaking and bring nationwide changes. This ecosystem must comprise of both intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs who will collaborate in starting a ripple effect of change towards inclusive growth.

Toru Institute of Inclusive Innovation, founded in 2014, is an institution for the future of learning and innovation for inclusive growth in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. They work with intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs to create an enabled society that fosters innovation and innovators so they can thrive and drive the economy towards inclusive growth. Saif Kamal, Founder of Toru, says, “Love the problem, not the solution. To build an innovative nation, transformative leaders should be given an enabled ecosystem which supports and encourages disruptive innovation.”

So, how does Toru work? In Bangla, Toru means “a Tree”, and similar to a tree, they work in four layers: 

 Nurturing the 'Innovator's Mindset' among the students, intrapreneurs, and entrepreneurs for inclusive growth.

 Mobilise and curate resources from public, private and civic sectors to enable innovation and learning.

 Nurturing social innovators in the development of their solutions.

 Scaling innovations to sustainable businesses.

At the root, students, entrepreneurs, and intrapreneurs learn methods to nurture the skills for the future. The five skills Toru identifies to be of significant importance in the future are critical thinking, creativity, empathy, cognitive flexibility, and collaboration. Adapting these skills will enable the youth to continuously learn and innovate regardless of where they are, be it the private, public, or civic sector. Saif Kamal tells us, “Empathy lies at the core of Toru. If we as humans are not empathetic, then how do we distinguish ourselves?” 

For the trunk of the tree, Toru focuses on multi-sectoral collaboration. Toru believes that collaboration plays a pivotal role in learning. Individuals from different backgrounds can come together to share their thoughts and learning. An engineer will learn from a musician, while a marketing professional learns from a philosopher. Saif Kamal further adds, “Creating only entrepreneurs will not be enough. Entrepreneurs will need intrapreneurs who possess the 'Innovator's Mindset' in order for them to bring positive social change.” Toru helps individuals collaborate with other individuals, organisations and the system as a whole. Toru also has a co-learning space called Toru Chhaya, which is a platform that facilitates the collaboration between cross-sectoral professionals.

The Innovation and Design Lab represents the branches of Toru. Saif Kamal says, “Disruptive innovations do not happen overnight. They require creativity, time, perseverance, and a dedicated team aligned with a focused vision.” Innovators in the Innovation and Design Lab go through a human-centered design process to develop, test, prototype and pilot their innovation. Innovations are continuously nurtured and monitored by experts in the lab in order to ensure that the ideas in the lab are ready to be deployed and scaled.

The Impactpreneurs of Toru are their fruits. Impactpreneurs undergo one to two years of incubation, coaching, and mentorship to scale their businesses into sustainable and investable enterprises. Toru prepares innovators to adapt to the incoming change and lead with purpose. In the long run, these empathetic innovators will collaborate and work towards transformative system change both at service delivery and policy level.

Till now, Toru has four Impactpreneurs in its programme; Ayman Sadiq, Founder of 10 Minute School; Waiz Rahim, Founder of Deligram; Aziza Sultana Mukti, Head of Operations of ME SOLshare Ltd; and Siffat Sarwar, Founder of ShopUp. “Through these Impactpreneurs, Toru has impacted the lives of 5.4 million Bangladeshis,” expresses Saif Kamal.

Toru calls itself a force multiplying organisation, which means that they work with a handful of people who initiate change in their own fields. These people enter the programme through a rigorous screening process. Saif Kamal adds, “We are continuously experiencing mediocrity and not excellence as a result of trying to reach out to the mass. Therefore, we, at Toru, believe in nurturing excellence and creating role models who will give rise to further excellence around them.” Today, Ayman Sadiq has helped four million people get access to educational content by creating the 10 Minute School platform and Siffat Sarwar has enabled seven thousand micro-merchants sell online through ShopUp. When talking about his journey as an entrepreneur and Toru's involvement in it, Ayman says, “Every entrepreneur should have a Toru and Saif Kamal as their mentor.”

In the coming days, Toru will be collaborating with organisations across the private, public and civic sectors, and taking their learning lab to different universities across the country to reach out to more youth.

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